Major Scales and Minor Scales

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bassist4ever, Apr 17, 2002.

  1. i have the gig bag book of bass scales and i was wondering which ones are minor and what is major (aside form the ones which state it.)
    Lets see we have the:
    Lydian flat-seven
    whole tone
    and the blues scale (w maj3rd and flat5)

    can anyone help me place these into categories?

    (sorry if this has been repeated in some other post somewhere but i didnt have time to search [parents and their frikin college reports])
  2. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, one might say, none. Major and minor scales, in so far as we generally talk about them, are scales that follow a certain pattern of intervals, as opposed to a definition of a further sub group of scales.

    Let's take Major. It's made of the intervals, (where "w" equals a whole step or tone, and "h" equals a half step or semitone):

    Major: W - W - H - W - W - W - H

    That's a major scale.

    Then there's minor. It has a couple names, pure minor, natural minor, or aeolian.

    Minor: W - H - W - W - H - W - W

    The scales you list also have specific intervals that make them up. You first list Dorian. This is the second mode of the major scale. (Aeolian is the 6th mode).

    Dorian: W - H - W - W - W - H - W
    Phrygian: H - W- W - W - H - W - W
    Lydian: W - W - W - H - W - W - H
    Mixolydian: W - H - W - W - H - W - W

    Blah blah blah.

    So these scales are what they are, they are neither major nor minor. However, you can play certain scales over a major or minor chord. Dorian is used quite often over minor chords. But avoid the trap of just thinking that you can play dorian over any minor chord. You have to look at the chord's function. If you see Amin7, you could play that as Dorian, you could play it as Phrygian, you could play it as Aeolian. You could play it as many many different scales. It depends upon several factors, including the overall tonality, or key, of the song. It also depends upon what everyone else is doing, and what you're hearing.
  3. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    Hey Spaz Toe? This reminds me of a conversation we had just last night. (about the modes)

    When I see a Amin7 or any minor for that matter, I just automaticly think ok its got a b3, b7, and b6 sometimes (aeolian i think has b6 too). Am I at least somewhere in the ball park in my logic for this. (at least untill i can remember all the modes)
  4. ldiezman


    Jul 11, 2001
    Cassanova, yeah you're close

    Aeolian is actually the name for Natural minor. Ionian is the name for major

    In response to the first question. Jazzbo explains it pretty good. lemme see if i can add to it..

    They way I learned scales and modes was in reference to Major and Minor scales.
    for example

    Mixolydian is a major scale with a lowered seventh scale degree

    Lydian is major with a raised fouth scale degree

    Dorian is Natural minor with a raised 6th degree

    Phrygian is natural minor with a lowered 2

    locrian is the lest common of all these. its natural minor with a lowered 2 and lowered 5.

    if you have access to a piano, try this. think in the key of C. no sharps or flats. only white keys. Play a C scale. That is major. then move up to D play it using only white keys, that is a dorian scale. E white only, Phrygian. F white keys only, lydian. G white keys only, Mixolydian. A white keys only, aolian (minor). B white keys only, locrian.

    I hope that helped.. if it doesn't. Pm me. I can go into greater detail then if you need me too

  5. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    This is very true, however, the one thing I don't like about this is that it doesn't teach you the relationship of the notes. What I mean is, for the longest time, if someone said to me D# Phrygian, then I would think, "okay, phrygian is the 3rd mode of the major scale, and D# is the 3rd note of B major scale. So, therefore I'll play a B major scale starting on the D#." What's bad about that is I wasn't understanding what intervals make up the phyrgian scale, I was only understanding the intervals of the major scale. When you start thinking, Phrygian is "H-W-W-W-H-W-W" then you begin to understand how you can use the phyrgian mode. This is like when Jim was saying that a Phrygian is a natural minor with a lowered 2. This is a great way to think of it, because it's much easier then to think of how you might be able to use this scale.


    Yes, you're in the ballpark, but let me ask you a question. Let's say you're playing a jazz tune and you see the chord Amin7, how would you know whether to play aeolian, dorian, or phrygian?
  6. ldiezman


    Jul 11, 2001
    Jazzbo i see exactly what you are saying about not learning the relationships between the intervals. You're exactly right too :). I was just using the piano as the easiest way to begin to hear and understand the difference between the different scales and modes. Using that along with actually knowing the note values and what not will IMO help tremendously.

  7. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    :D I can answer that one!

    I wouldnt know :(

    All Id know Is that by seeing an Amin7 cord It has a b3 and b7. , I know aeolian is b3, b6, b7, but over all as far as modes go I wouldnt have a clue
  8. Lipis Roman

    Lipis Roman

    Mar 5, 2002
    Hey Jazzbo, I wanna play too. :)

    I'm pretty sure the answer has something to do with how the minor chord is functioning. I suppose the overall tonality of the song, along with whatever chord progression the minor chord is a part of would help to determine which scales you might choose to utilize.

    As far as making those sort of decisions, aside from just playing whatever you're hearing, I'm not sure how to go about it. My knowledge of harmony is pretty damn poor at the moment.

    I wouldn't mind hearing some examples/scenarios about how to go about it, if it's not too much trouble?
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY


    You're mostly right about the first part - the part about "the overall tonality of the song"...but to be more specific, it's often useful to look instead at the "Overall key of the moment" instead (and if that happens to also be the overall key of the song, so much the better; but if it doesn't, you could still be in business). For example, if you run into an Ami chord within the overall tonality of "C Major", you're looking at a vi chord, which would suggest natural minor. The same chord in the key of "G major", however, would be a ii chord, in which case the most logical choice would be Dorian. Then again, that same Ami chord in an F Major tonality would function as iii of the key, in which case Phrygian would be the most logical choice.

    For example, if you look at the first few bars of "All the Things You Are", the changes look like this:


    If you don't understand harmonic context, you might play a Dorian for each of the minor chords, and Ionian for each of the Major chords. But when you take the overall tonality into account, it becomes clear that the whole progression above is all a part of Ab Major, which means that the following chord scales are implied because of the overall harmonic context:

    Fmi: Aeolian

    Bbmi: Dorian

    Eb7: Mixolydian

    AbMa: Ionian

    DbMa: Lydian

    Does that make sense?
  10. Lipis Roman

    Lipis Roman

    Mar 5, 2002
    That makes sense Chris. The concept is pretty foreign to me at this point but I think I understand what you've explained so far. Just to be certain, here's a couple examples with my take on it.


    That would be the same type of progression (vi-ii-V7-I-IV) you just used only in the key of Bb, implying the same scale types as in the example of "All the Things You Are". Right?

    Now say that Gmi chord appeared again in the same song like this: Gmi...C7...Fma... (ii-V7-I)

    I don't know how likely that is to happen but if it did that would likely imply Dorian to be played over that same Gmi chord instead of aeolian, in which case the "overall key of the moment" would be would be F.

    Correct assumptions?
  11. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Yes. Correct assumption. What you describe is very likely to happen, a ii-V7-I turnaround.

    Gmi: Dorian
    C7: Mixolydian
    Fma: Ionian (Major)
  12. Lipis Roman

    Lipis Roman

    Mar 5, 2002
    Man, I've made about 10 edits to this post trying to respond but they all ammounted to a bunch of babble.

    In short, I understand what you're saying Ed. Makes sense to me.

    [edit#2] Sorry about that, bad timing. You addressed a couple things that I edited out of my previous post. Thank you for the input Ed and for that link, Joe Sounds like an amazing guy.
  13. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000

    If I see a G ninor chord, I wouldnt strictly think Dorian, for one, Im still kinda clueless why Id have to think that. But like I said earlier, I'd just think ok, I have to use b3, b6, and b7.

    This hasnt let me down yet, but now Im getting the feeling that it just might someday.
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I agree. But again, I think it helps to hear the more "inside" stuff first before trying to figure out how to resolve the more "outside" stuff back "inside". Or did I get that inside-out?
  15. Lipis Roman

    Lipis Roman

    Mar 5, 2002
    I just want to say that I understand where both of you (Chris and Ed) are comming from and I appreciate both points of view, it'a all giving me alot to think about.

    I spend a decent ammount of time singing melodies that I have in my head, whether I'm practing or away from the bass. I also find myself harmonizing over songs on the radio or any albums I may be listening to. I hear stuff, I just don't always understand the inner workings of what I'm hearing in terms of theory, infact it's rare that I do. That's one of my problems that I'm now determined to put an end to, I welcome the challenge, it's exciting stuff.

    Being presented with the basics that Chris and Jazzbo have mentioned seem to help quite a bit, it's information I can sink my teeth into and I'm not getting overwhelmed by it. I know none of this is be all end all type of stuff, strict rules and what not. It's just something to work with and mold into whatever is desired.

    That approach coupled with a wide eye view of the big picture and/or goals to shoot for that Ed is talking about makes for a great combo in my opinion. Informative and inspiring.

    Just wanted to drop my 2 cents in, now I'm broke again, thanks again guys.
  16. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA

    The question I have then, would be how to you learn to fly if you can't "walk" yet? Once you learn the rules, then you can break them, but you can't break rules that you just don't know about.

    Let's take the ii-V7-I example, and stay in Cmajor for simplicity.

    Our chords are Dmin7 G7 Cmaj7

    If we write out scales, to signify possible note selections, (a la Aebersold), then we have:

    D E F G A B C || G A B C D E F || C D E F G A B ||

    Now, if we just abitrarily choose Aeolian and Ionian to play, our note selection becomes:

    D E F G A Bb C || G A B C D E F# || C D E F G A B ||

    Now we've got a Bb and F# in there that may or may not work. I kind of like the Bb on occassion and I certainly like the tritone, when used in the right place. So, yeah, it's not going to be a total bummer, but following some sort of guideline as a beginner is helpful to some. Now, maybe it's better just to start more openly, but unless you have the right situation, (good teacher, jazzbos to play with, etc.), it's hard to discern what or why you're doing when you play just chromatically.
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Cool. That's what this site is all about.
  18. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
  19. And this is the only problem I really have with theory right now - how the hell do I figure out the key? I can work it out from the root note, but if I'm given a bunch of chords how the hell do I figure out the overal tonality?!?!? This is really bugging me, as I can't get a straight answer anywhere. It didn't help when I was reading a guitar magazine article on the situation, and it said that when working out keys, look at the notes in the scale. I knew this much. Then, it started randomly saying how certain chords corresponding to notes in a scale were major/minor -


    Excuse my ignorance, but how the hell can you look at C Major: C D E F G A B, and know which notes correspond to minor chords? I'm guessing that you look at the modes of that scale and use the notes of that mode to construct chords:

    C: Ionian, no sharps or flats

    D: Dorian, b3 and b7

    E: Phyrgian, b2, b3 and b7

    F: Lydian, #4(b5)

    G: Mixolydian, b7(dominant 7?)

    A: Aeolian, b3, b6 and b7

    B: Locrian, b2, b3, b5, b6 and b7

    Usually, Minor chords have a flat 3rd right? So, in the key of C Major, D, E, A and B all construct chords that are minor, right?

    If I'm wrong, please correct me. This is probably the only thing stopping me from understanding theory a hell of a lot more.

    P.S. When writing stuff, Aeolian, Phyrgian and Locrian are my favourite modes for riffs. It's just a shame I can't tell my guitarist what chords would sound best over the riffs I write :(.
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Keep this up, and before long you'll be able to do just that. Good luck.
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